2004 Enlargement Of The European Union
On May 1st, 2004, ten new countries with 75 million people
have joined the European Union (EU) in its biggest-ever enlargement. Now representing 25 countries, its total
population of more than 450 million exceeds that of NAFTA member countries Canada, Mexico, and the United States combined.
While politically diverse and not always fully aligned,
the EU represents a strong and homogenous economic entity. With its common currency, unrestricted internal trade,
and harmonized laws and regulations, the union’s single-market philosophy reaches far beyond free trade agreements such
as NAFTA. Its combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of over $11 trillion is higher than that of the United States,
making the EU the largest single market in the world.
The new member countries represent a rich pool of cultural
diversity and economic opportunities. Here's a brief overview.
This Central European country's economy and population
almost equal the nine others combined. Per-capita income, however, is still one of the lowest across the whole
EU. Its people have a well-deserved reputation for being resourceful and persistent, but entrepreneurial spirit
often remains somewhat underdeveloped.
Czech Republic and Slovakia
Created in the peaceful break-up of former Czechoslovakia
in 1993, these two Central European countries represent the second and fourth largest economies among the ten new
members. Their cultures and languages are quite similar.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
The three Baltic states have all been part of the former
Soviet Union until 1994. Often erroneously viewed a homogenous trio, they are quite different in economic structure,
culture, and language.
Hungary and Slovenia
Economically liberal even when still a Communist country,
Hungary has enjoyed consistent growth since it fully opened its markets in 1990. Slovenia, a part of Yugoslavia
until 1991, always had strong ties to Western Europe which helped nurture economic development after its independence.
Both are located in Southeastern Europe.
Cyprus and Malta
These two small Mediterranean island states both do
well economically. Cyprus still struggles politically, being split into a Greek and a Turkish part.
The integration into the EU has opened up many
opportunities for the new member states. Following the model of Ireland, Portugal, and others before them,
each is advertising itself as an attractive target for foreign investments. Given generally good education levels
and favorable business conditions, including labor cost that is usually less than half that of the largest EU economies,
most of them should see many years of growing prosperity, especially in light of the ever-accelerating trend towards
Getting ready to join the union was a major undertaking
for each of the new member countries. In addition to meeting political and economic criteria, each first had to
adopt the full body of EU law as part of their national law systems. Now that their accession has been completed,
other countries are already going through the same process.
Scheduled to join in 2007 are Bulgaria and Romania.
Other membership candidates include Croatia and Turkey. In parallel, the EU is working to further advance the
process of becoming a homogenous political and economic entity through the adoption of a new constitution while
strengthening its governing bodies and political representation.